Modality and variability of synesthetic experience

Valentina Niccolai, Janina Jennes, Tessa van Leeuwen, Petra Stoerig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In synesthesia, stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to additional, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. We here review previous surveys on this neurologically based phenomenon and report the results of 63 synesthetes who completed our Internet and paper questionnaire on synesthesia. In addition to asking for personal data and information on the participant’s synesthesia, the questionnaire focused on the components of the inducer that elicit or modulate synesthesia. Synesthesia was most often developmental (92%) and of the grapheme-color type (86%). Sixty-two percent of the participants perceived time-related words in a spatial configuration. Music-color synesthesia was common (41%), and synesthesia for natural and artificial sounds (33%) was higher than in previous estimates. Eighty-one percent of participants experienced more than one form of synesthesia. Multimodal synesthesia, in which inducer and concurrent belong to 2 different sensory modalities, occurred in 92% of the participants. Overall, auditory stimuli were most often reported as inducers, and visual concurrents were most common. Modulations of the synesthetic experiences such as changes of the concurrent color, expansion within the same or to a different sensory modality, or reduction of the number of inducers over time were reported by 17% of participants. This challenges the presumed consistency of synesthesia and the adequacy of the test-retest consistency score still most commonly used to assess the veracity of reported synesthesia. Implications of the high prevalence of cross-modal synesthesia and the variability of synesthesia are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-94
JournalThe American journal of psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Synesthesia


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